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Rain is a good thing

Contributed by Tuukka Castren, Senior Forestry Specialist at the World Bank
I have rarely had the chance to see so many different aspects of forestry in a 10-day span. On a recent work trip to Indonesia I went from discussing illegal logging and trade, to hearing about indigenous peoples' rights, REDD+ and haze.

My first stop was in the city of Medan, in Northern Sumatra, where the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) held meetings on issues ranging from trade in services to data security and illegal logging and associated trade. APEC is a superb forum for discussions on timber trade and its legality; the group includes forest and timber trade powerhouses such as China, Vietnam, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, USA and Australia.

Many of the members are actively developing regulatory frameworks for international trade in timber and wood products. Indonesia has agreed on a Voluntary Partnership Agreement with the EU and has a well-established legality verification system (Sistem verifikasi legalitas kayu --SVLK). Australia has followed the example of US Lacey Act amendment and EU Timber Regulation and agreed on the Illegal Logging Prohibition Act in November 2012. Japan, Korea and China have seen the writing on the wall and are developing their own legality verification and monitoring systems. Although the intention is good, all these separate national initiatives risk leading to a balkanization of the forest legality landscape. The picture gets even more complex when you think of sustainability and its myriad of competing schemes and labels. Therefore it is welcome news that the Australian system recognizes FLEGT licenses and international certification schemes (FSC and PEFC) as verification of due diligence and legality without further documentation. That should help ease the burden of exporters particularly in the APEC region.

It was also good to hear from Indonesian concession companies and Australian and Swedish retailing companies that are working to ensure that only legal products enter their supply chains, at the private sector dialogue, supported by PROFOR, Forest Legality Alliance and The Nature Conservancy, on the margins of the APEC meeting. I think this is an angle we sometimes miss: we easily forget the value of sustainably managed forests and wood-based industries in the creation of “climate-smart” jobs, poverty eradication and shared prosperity in rural areas. There has been so much bad pressn in our sector that we easily forget the potential for positive change.

My second stop was Lombok, not far from Bali, where I followed Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) discussions on REDD+ and how to make sure global policies benefit indigenous peoples and other marginalized forest users. Indonesia is an excellent location for these discussions since the country has taken notable decisions regarding indigenous peoples’ rights to their land.

The third “attraction” on this trip was not a meeting but rather a condition that affected the entire sub-region: the hazy issue of fire. A couple of years ago, country musician Luke Bryan had a hit single called “Rain is a good thing.” I am sure that millions of people in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia agreed with him when real and artificial rain fell on the burning peatlands in Riau in Central Sumatra, putting down fires. Luke Bryan had his own reasons for praising rain, but he was right: pollution levels dropped from their alarming highs.

The fires appeared to strain the relationship between countries in the regions, with lots of finger-pointing across the Strait of Malacca. But fortunately in recent days regional dialogue has become more constructive.

Some things however never change: after this large-scale natural resource governance failure, eight smallholders caught practicing slash and burn farming were the first people to be placed under arrest.

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